How To Find Security In A World Filled With Uncertainty

“Circumstances do not determine a person; they reveal a person.”
Reality has always been filled with uncertainty, but I’ve never had more uncertainty in my life than now. Here are just a few of the questions that have been on my mind recently:
• Will we ever get back to relating comfortably with each other again?
• Will my daughter be able to come home for Christmas? When will I see my grandkids (who live in the US) again?
• What if I unknowingly pass Covid on to someone else? If I contract Covid, what impact will it have on me? How about on my family?
• What will the impact of zoom meetings and remote working conditions have on my business long term?
• Will this pandemic ever actually be “over?” And what will the new reality look like? And how will we even know it is “over?”
With my sensitive nervous system and propensity toward worry, I struggle to find strength and peace of mind. Here are seven ways I have found security and inner well-being in the midst of the uncertainty:
1. Separate Security From Safety. Safety is a condition of being protected from harm in order to achieve an acceptable standard of risk. Safety comes from your environment. In its simplest terms, your workplace or relationship is either physically safe or it is physically unsafe. Psychologically, it is either safe for interpersonal risk-taking or it isn’t safe. Security, on the other hand, is a state of confidence that arises from one’s capacity to face the demands of reality. Security comes from within. “Security,” Helen Keller said once, “is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” It is the organization’s responsibility to ensure a safe work environment, but it is an employee’s job to be secure within that environment. The best companies create loyalty through great leadership and culture, not through the illusion of job security. Job security comes from one’s employability, one’s capacity to be employed. Like an employer, it is the responsibility of our public health system to create a safe society. However, the path of security, in the world of a pandemic, is to take responsibility for our own health and well-being – so we’ll have the strongest immune system possible. No one else is going to do that for us.
2. Become Stronger. My father used to say to me, “Don’t pray for life to get easier. Pray, instead, for you to get stronger.” To quote American author, Van Jones, “I don’t want you to be safe, ideologically. I don’t want you to be safe, emotionally. I want you to be strong. That’s different. I’m not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots and learn how to deal with adversity. I’m not going to take all the weights out of the gym; that’s the whole point of the gym. This is the gym.” I find it strengthening to regularly workout on the weights and hit the bag. While sustaining and growing physical strength is helpful, what it does to strengthen my mind is even better. You get stronger by doing something difficult. What are you doing every day that’s hard, but you do it anyway? We’ve all heard that self-care is important. But self-care usually isn’t comfortable or easy or painless. Self-care is what you don’t want to do but you know you need to do because of how you feel after you do it. Becoming stronger can be as simple as making your bed every morning. Strength is not about velocity; it’s about direction. What direction are you headed?
3. Build Community. Through this pandemic, I’ve never felt more isolated, and I’ve never felt more connected. We are all in this together. No one is unscathed from the impact of COVID-19. Every day I reach out and deepen my relationship with my community – my handful of trusted confidants. Not only am I using this time to get stronger physically and mentally, I’m using this time to strengthen my relationships with the important people in my life. Every day I share something with someone about my fears, my doubts, my insecurities, and my dreams. I talk about my losses and my grief, my anxiety and my worry, my vision and my intentions. It doesn’t need to go on Facebook, but it does need to be shared with the people who matter most. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
4. Replace Optimism With A Firm Resolve. Admiral Jim Stockdale, who Jim Collins referred to in his classic book, Good To Great, was held captive in a prison camp in Vietnam for seven years. When asked how he did not allow his oppressive circumstances to beat him down, he talked about facing the honest truth of one’s situation. “You have to understand, it was never depressing. Because despite all those circumstances, I never ever wavered in my absolute faith that not only would I prevail – get out of this – but I would also prevail by turning it into the defining event of my life that would make me a stronger and better person…” He also commented on who didn’t make it out of those circumstances: “It was the optimists. They were the ones who always said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ Christmas would come and it would go. And there would be another Christmas. And they died of a broken heart…. You must never, ever, ever confuse the need for absolute, unwavering faith that you can prevail despite those constraints, with the need for the discipline to begin by confronting the brutal facts, whatever they are. We’re not getting out of here by Christmas.” There’s no end in sight to the pandemic and we don’t even know what the end will look like. What we do know is that strength lies in staying present in the present moment and power comes from a firm resolve we will get through this and will be better for it. “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so to all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
5. Choose Service over Self-Interest. In my book, Caring Is Everything: Getting To The Heart of Humanity, Leadership, and Life, I discuss the value of expressing our innate generosity as an antidote to most of what ails us. At times, caring happens as a reflex. It isn’t something we think about or “try” to do. It’s the instinctive response of an open heart. Someone slips, our arm goes out. The car in front of us is in an accident and we stop to help. A colleague feels down, and we buy them a cup of coffee. It all seems natural and appropriate. Through caring naturally for one another, we can glimpse an essential quality of our being. We may be sitting alone, lost in self-pity, feeling sorry for ourselves, when the phone rings with a call from a friend who is really depressed. Instinctively, we come out of ourselves and are there for another. It doesn’t matter what is said, but when a little comfort is shared, we hang up and feel a little more content with ourselves. We’re reminded of who we really are and what we can offer one another.
6. Practice Gratitude. In The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom tells of her involvement in the Dutch resistance during World War II, and how she managed to survive Hitler’s concentration camps and afterward travel the world as a public speaker. “Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives, is the perfect preparation for the future only He can see.” The practice of gratitude carried her through the years of torture and the death of her family members. At one point, she even practiced gratitude for the fleas, for they were a part of “all circumstances.” She was a courageous woman who brought to life the precious perspective of seeking the gift in everything. I’ve learned to always make your gratitude bigger than your circumstances. Here’s a quick exercise to try that proves that gratitude can change your outlook. Pick any person you know and ask yourself, what do I appreciate about this person? Try to write down at least ten things. Now observe how your attitude toward that person has shifted. You can even take it a step further and let the person know what’s on your list. Gratitude changes everything. What you appreciate appreciates. Gratitude is like a muscle. Just as it is strengthening, so it has to also be strengthened. It has to be practiced.
7. Find Strength From Within. Whether you call it faith or inner well-being, security ultimately must come from within. I’ve learned this in my work with addictions for the past two decades. To get well, drug addicts and alcoholics have to find some kind of strength beyond their own capacity. They have to come to grips with the brutal facts that there is no security outside of themselves. Alcohol won’t do it. Drugs won’t do it. Food won’t do it. Order and control won’t do it. Fame and money and notoriety won’t do it. Security is an inside job. There is simply not enough stuff in the world to fill the emptiness inside of us. It’s an inside job. William Stafford’s journey with words began most mornings before sunrise. This simple poem, “The Way It Is,” written 26 days before he passed, expresses brilliantly what it means to find an inner place of calm and steadiness in the midst of the vicissitudes of life.

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Uncertainty is integral to life. Without uncertainty there would be no room for new possibility. In our willingness to accept uncertainty, solutions will spontaneously emerge out of the problem, out of the confusion, disorder, and chaos. The more uncertain things seem to be, the more secure you can feel, because accepting uncertainty is the path to freedom. In the wisdom of uncertainty lies the freedom from our past, from knowing, from the prison of past conditioning. Through the willingness to step wholeheartedly and fully into the unknown, we step into the field of possibility. When we discover both inner well-being and wisdom amid the uncertainty, we find security.

MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER What Prisoners of War Can Teach Us About Getting Through The Pandemic

“Freedom has a taste to it to those who fight and almost die that the protected will never know.” – Written on a prison wall by a captive in Vietnam

I heard once that the purpose of a crisis is not to break us as much as it is to break us open. As Remembrance Day approaches in Canada, I felt it important to honour our veterans and find strength from their courage. May we use this pandemic as an opportunity to open our hearts and examine our lives more deeply as we find the courage to keep walking with compassion and authenticity.

What has given me strength and inspiration through this pandemic is to compare our current reality to the lives of people who had it much worse than what we are experiencing now. With Remembrance Day upon us, I have been reading about the experiences of POWs and the horrors many experienced. It is impossible to imagine the unfathomable atrocities and man’s inhumanity to man throughout the two World Wars and the numerous wars since. We’ve heard of months of solitary confinement, suffocating heat, freezing cold, grueling physical and psychological torture, humiliation, slave labour, constant hunger, disease, and unimaginable mental duress the POW’s endured. And yet, time and again, darkness could not overcome the light that helped so many of the sick and scarred to the other side.
In honour of our veterans this month I offer three lessons that POWs can teach us about surviving – and thriving – in times of crisis. Lest we forget…
Stay Connected. One crucial means of survival in the camps was to form strong bonds with fellow prisoners. Having a small group of three to four mates was essential. Within these small pods they shared food and workload and nursed each other when they were sick. British RAF aircraftsman Derek Fogarty, a Japanese POW, recalled in a 2008 interview: “You bonded like a brother. If a person was sick you took them water, you did their washing. We were so close, and got closer and closer over the years; people would die for their mates; that’s how close things got.” Without their mates, many more prisoners would have died. Captain David Arkush remembered how “everybody had dysentery. They lay in their own excrement. Unless they had a mucker, a pal, to look after them, they stood little chance of survival.”
Even when confronted with solitary confinement, POWs depended on secret communication with their fellow captives to relay vital information, and to keep up morale. It was said that POWs in a German camp in World War II communicated between buildings undetected by tapping a secret code on a common water pipe.
We may not need a lot of people, but we need a strong band of allies.
Get Stronger. POWs who were able to survive their ordeals found a way to be with the torment by keeping themselves strong – mentally, physically, and spiritually. Rather than expecting the hardship to diminish (which they couldn’t control), they worked at getting stronger to counter it. To quote American author, Van Jones, “I don’t want you to be safe, ideologically. I don’t want you to be safe, emotionally. I want you to be strong. That’s different. I’m not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots and learn how to deal with adversity. I’m not going to take all the weights out of the gym; that’s the whole point of the gym. This is the gym.”
For some POWs, strength came from the incredible encouragement they gave each other; for others, from their imagination – a vision for a better future; for others, faith that the trying times had a purpose and would make them stronger. For many, a positive attitude and humour were a key to survival. All of them had a disciplined way of keeping a strong mind. As former POW Captain Eugene McDaniel wrote, “All I had was tomorrow, and maybe that was the height of my confidence. Well then, I would make tomorrow count for something.”  For still others, honestly facing their fears and doubts gave them the strength to go on.
Admiral Jim Stockdale, who Jim Collins referred to in his classic book, Good To Great, was held captive in a prison camp in Vietnam for seven years. When asked how he did not allow his oppressive circumstances to beat him down, he talked about facing the honest truth of one’s situation. “You have to understand, it was never depressing. Because despite all those circumstances, I never ever wavered in my absolute faith that not only would I prevail – get out of this – but I would also prevail by turning it into the defining event of my life that would make me a stronger and better person…” He also commented on who didn’t make it out of those circumstances: “It was the optimists. They were the ones who always said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ Christmas would come and it would go. And there would be another Christmas. And they died of a broken heart…. You must never, ever, ever confuse the need for absolute, unwavering faith that you can prevail despite those constraints, with the need for the discipline to begin by confronting the brutal facts, whatever they are. We’re not getting out of here by Christmas.”
Be Needed. It is a fundamental human need to know that we matter, that we make some kind of impact, to feel needed.Humans can carry a deep-seated fear that life is futile, that death will surprise us when our song is still unsung. Whether we are employed or unemployed, laid-off or retired, have a fulfilling career or a “dead-end-job,” we all need to know, deep inside, that the life we are living matters.
During WW II, across the camps, the POWs who stayed strong and vital pooled their skills and trades to help one another. Doctors, denied tools or medicine, needed the expertise of others. Medical orderly and former plumber, Fred Margarson, ran secret POW workshops at Chungkai hospital camp in Thailand where he supervised the making of artificial legs for tropical ulcer patients. His friend Gordon Vaughan, a Post Office engineer before the war, made vital medical instruments for examining dysentery patients from old tin cans, and surgical forceps from pairs of scissors. Those who stayed strong within the confines of the camps lived through giving of themselves. Comforting others. Giving away their last spoonful of rice. Putting others ahead of their own comfort.
Each one of us makes a difference. Each one of us is required. Look around you. See where you can help. Be needed.
Every single veteran—whether they are alive, no longer with us, a POW or MIA—deserves our utmost respect and support. May we never forget. May we continue to honour them. And may we continue to allow them to inspire us and teach us.

HOW TO RECOVER THE HUMAN ELEMENT

The students of a Hasidic rabbi approached their spiritual leader with a complaint about the prevalence of evil in the world. Intent upon driving out the forces of darkness, they requested the rabbi to counsel them. The rabbi suggested they take brooms and attempt to sweep the darkness from a cellar. The bewildered disciples applied themselves to sweeping out the darkness, but to no avail. The rabbi then advised them to take sticks and beat vigorously at the dark to drive out the evil. When this also failed, he counseled them to go down again in the cellar, and to protest violently against the darkness. When this failed too, he counseled his followers to meet the challenge of darkness by lighting a lamp.
Here are four ways, we, as authentic leaders, can light a lamp in the darkness of the incivility, inhumanity, and disconnection that we may be experiencing during these trying times:
1)    Be diligent about self-care so you can care for others. Self care isn’t always comfortable. On the farm growing up, we had no central heating. It was my job to stoke the potbelly stove to heat the house in the morning. It was a ritual before starting my day. Just as stoking the fire takes some effort, if we are going to be a strong source of light in the world, I find the first hour of the day to be critical for stoking that light. My ritual, in the first hour of my day, includes meditation, reading inspirational literature, and walking with the dogs. To keep my lamp strong throughout the day, I pay careful attention to what I eat, how much rest and exercise I get, and how I connect with my community. These aren’t just habits of the body; they are habits of the heart. Bringing a strong lamp into the world starts with being good to myself.
2)    Be real. Yesterday I received a call from a friend I hadn’t heard from in months. “How are you?” she asked. I responded with my usual upbeat spiel about how we are adjusting to the new reality, getting our material online, learning how to use zoom and present live-streaming events, etc.
After a couple of minutes she asked, “How are you, really? We’re on the phone, so we don’t need our masks.” After a pause we both became emotional.
“I don’t miss the traveling and the airports and the hotels… But I miss the connections. This has been one of the most challenging years I have ever faced. My business is based on being face-to-face with people and is built on hugs and handshakes; creating an environment for human connection. It’s what makes my business thrive. My strength is human touch, and I miss not being able to express this fully. We are, after all, social creatures. Even us introverts long for the symphony and the concerts and the hockey games.”
If you can’t be real you can’t stay connected.
3)    Be still – and smile. In Vietnam, when the boat people left the country in small boats, they were often caught in rough seas or storms, and if people panicked, boats would sink. But if even one person aboard remained calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, they could help the occupants survive. By communicating, through face and voice, clarity and calmness that comes from trust in ourselves and in the resources available to us, we earn trust from others. One such person can save the lives of many. I know it is hard to show you are smiling when you are wearing a mask. I learned from a great photographer once that you can smile with your eyes. Try it. It’s a great way to connect.
4)    Be clear, focused, and committed to human values. Most of the world functions under the belief that business and people are separate, that business is all about KPIs and numbers and financial results. They don’t have to be. You can drive the bottom line by integrating the human experience into business processes. This pandemic has created an opportunity for all of us to slow down, get our bearings, and examine more carefully and more deeply, how we are living and how we are leading. It’s a time for self-reflection and careful investigation of what we mean by success. Don’t confuse wealth with money or success with meaning. To paraphrase the words of the great Zig Ziglar, money will buy you a house, but not a home; a companion but not a friend; a bed but not a good night’s sleep. Money will buy you sustenance, but it won’t buy you substance; it will buy you clothes, but it won’t buy you class; it will buy you a car, but it won’t buy you character; it will buy you information, but it won’t buy you wisdom.
If these ideas resonate with you and you want to step away from the tyranny of the urgent, renew your perspective on life and leadership, and join a community of like-minded leaders, we are hosting a masterclass in authentic leadership practice where participants heighten their leadership capacity in ways that will powerfully impact their lives. https://ally-stone-9892.mindmint.com/irvinestone
It is an experience that takes you deeply into the work of authentic leadership and offers you sustaining principles, insights, and practical tools for inspiring trust, engaging talent, embracing change, and ensuring accountability. Are you ready to take the journey? I hope you will join us for this exciting adventure.

Four Ways to Protect Your Well-Being In Colder Months

I love this time of year. It’s my favorite season. I call it “late summer.” The crisp air in my morning walks, the dropping temperatures, and the leaves beginning to turn remind me of going back to school, my days of harvest on the farm, starting a new year of teaching, and beginning a new business cycle.

And even though there is a lot that seems different this year with the pandemic, I’m still embracing the emerging fall.

Here are four keys to protect your mental and physical health heading into colder months:

1) Get outside. I’ve learned in my life that the way to grow through discomfort is to move toward what ails you, not away from it. There’s no growth in the comfort zone, so if you are going to grow and flourish, move toward what ails you, not away from it. The weather is the same way. If it’s windy or cold or stormy, put on the clothes that match the weather, get out and enjoy whatever is there. Pushing yourself through a little discomfort is good for both the mind and the body.

2) Don’t purchase collective disease. I’m hearing a murmuring of voices these days that say, “we’ll get another wave of COVID when the days get colder and flu season hits,” but I’m not allowing it to frighten me. I am embracing life too much right now to let any cynic bring me down with more depressive thoughts. They don’t serve me well and I don’t think they serve the world.

3) Live with purpose. A purpose or vision is a powerful force in one’s life. My purpose of making a difference in people’s lives through teaching and writing was shaken last March when people immediately stopped hiring speakers. When the pandemic hit, I faced depressive thoughts, self-doubt, and fear. I temporarily lost my purpose, but after facing the dark night of my soul and considerable reflection, I began to realize that my purpose lay not in what I do but who I am. With a steadfast purpose to continue to teach and a vision to shift my work to an online format, we developed a three month virtual Authentic Leadership Development Masterclass: https://ally-stone-9892.mindmint.com/landing_page_8o9taxbvabex0il3g7b4

While self-doubt, fear, and depressive thoughts still surface at times, having a renewed sense of purpose dissolves the negativity and empowers me with regenerated energy.

4) Don’t be distracted by the detractors. It seems to be human nature to succumb to negativity, self-pity, and self-absorption by binge watching Netflix or endless internet surfing. Rising above what is easy and comfortable by responding to a vision of possibility is where self-respect is born. Envision yourself as healthy or create a business that will make the world better or learn a new skill that will challenge and inspire you. Then turn off the TV, set your devices down, unplug the news, and go get some exercise, sign up for an online class that inspires you, check out a recovery group, or pick up a book and start studying. Stop complaining about the world and start doing your part to make it better. Do this not because it will make you better than others but because of what it will do for you.

I have always loved the words of the great Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, when he said, at the age of ninety-three, This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Leadership By Modeling The Way: Let’s Choose Courage – Together

As a parent, I have learned that children are great imitators. The key is to give them something great to imitate. Michelle Skene, principal of The Ridge at Kanata Montessori School, where my daughter teaches, sent an inspiring note to parents as they prepare to send their children back to school this week. Her message reminded me of what it takes to be an authentic leader right now. Not just in the home and in the school, but also in the workplace.
“During challenging times,” wrote Michelle, “children of all ages look to their parents and adults for guidance. They observe carefully how we act and take their lead from us. They learn from what we do far more than from what we say. If we are patient and positive, they will be patient and positive.” If we are critical and negative, they will adopt the same approach. If we are fearful and hesitant, they will be fearful and hesitant. If we are courageous and decisive, they will follow suit.
Michelle then challenged her students’ parents to begin the new year with a renewed commitment to serve our children by role modeling the people we want them to become. “Your children and our students need us more than ever to be at our best and we will not disappoint them.”
This is the work of an authentic leader. You can inspire the people around you by being the change you want to see in others.
While our public health leaders are asking us to do what’s best for society by following public health protocols, no one is asking us to be afraid. Of course, it is natural to be fearful in new and unfamiliar territory. But we can decide to be courageous even in the midst of anxiety and uncertainty. We aren’t born courageous; courage is an inner muscle we strengthen by learning to deal with difficult situations. Growth lives outside the comfort zone.
This is a time when we are being sorely tested. And courage can be displayed in ways large and small every day. Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s learning to overcome it. Courage is also about accepting that we can’t always get everything we want and have things the way we want them to be. Nothing is ideal for anyone these days. Hardships are a part of life. Coming to grips with all this will be good for us – now and in the long run.
What we are dealing with today, at least in this country, is mostly about inconvenience and annoyances more than anything else. Sure, there will be severe economic and mental health challenges in the days ahead, but with our courage and compassion we will get through this in our own imperfect way.
Authentic leadership is about modeling the way. Let’s choose courage. Let’s lean into what we are afraid of. Let’s show ourselves and those around us that we can do this – and do it together

Facing Racism: It Starts With Personal Accountability

I was lamenting with a colleague about how we all have areas in our lives and our leadership that drive other people crazy, cause damage to the world around us, and hurt the people we care about. And we are blind to them. That’s why we call them blind spots in our leadership development program. So much of what we bring to the world causes harm and requires intentional work to improve our leadership, and yet has become so habitual that we aren’t even aware of it. It all seems fine to us, but we are blind to how destructive it can be.

So it would appear that perhaps the eruption of anger toward inequality and discrimination in our society is a reckoning of our own blind spots around the issue of racism. Professional athletes this week have reminded us all that there is something more important at work here than winning games, making money, and the achievement of goals.

It seems to be human nature to avoid problems and dodge the truth. After all, who wants to look at the financial ledger of our businesses or our lives? It’s easier to procrastinate a visit to the doctor than face lab work results. It’s easier to avoid facing the difficulties in a marriage than confront what’s really going on. Who wants to admit they have an addiction and actually do something about it?

It’s easy to criticize leaders in an organization for not facing reality or confronting brutal facts and acting on the implications. But how many of us do this in our own lives? And it’s easy to judge the racism we see around us, but what about the unacknowledged prejudice within us?

I recently spoke to a high-ranking public service leader who publicly made a statement that there was systemic racism in the culture that she led, and she was taking action to rectify it. She opened herself to much criticism from her employees, but her courage to face reality demonstrated the strength of her character. It also deepened her credibility and the respect of her best employees.

We all have our prejudices. Only when we own up to them and face this reality will we begin to heal the world – and heal our lives. Helping people see their blind spots is a large part of the work we do in our retreats and online programs for developing authentic leaders (see www.davidirvine.com).

There are specific actions you can take to change the world by facing some of your own racism blind spots. Let’s do our part to heal the world by taking personal accountability:

  • Speak to someone you know well who is different from you – in gender, race, ethnic background, or sexual orientation – and ask if they have experienced you being prejudiced, disrespectful, judgmental, or insensitive – and how. Say thank you and listen carefully to what they have to say. Be sincerely open to learn from them.
  • If the level of honesty about these questions may be in doubt, invite the people you work with to provide the answers to these questions anonymously.
  • If they honestly don’t perceive you as prejudiced, then still take time to listen to what they have to say. If something in you gets triggered, resist the human tendency to get defensive and instead use the trigger to open a new door to learn something. It’s important to begin the dialogue.
  • Treat all diversity as an opportunity to learn and face the truth. It’s a life-long endeavor, and one worth pursuing – for the sake of a good life and for the sake of the survival of our species.